ABET's EC 2000 lists “an ability to communicate effectively” as one of the criteria for engineering education programs. Here is one area where the liberal arts can make a strong contribution to the education of engineers. As they work to solve the grand challenges, engineers will have to persuade reluctant audiences that change is necessary and beneficial. Therefore, educating engineers to solve the grand challenges requires courses grounded in rhetoric.

A valid criticism of writing classes is that they have taught a sterile form of writing that was inadequate in preparing engineers to solve the grand challenges. To address this issue, this presentation advocates what we define as a “pedagogy of networks.” In many scholarly disciplines and workplaces, the expert witness or subject matter expert, a product of Modern thought, continues to be a valid method of knowledge transference. However, the expert witness model is not always effective when communicating with non-engineers. As ABET points out, engineers must be able to do more than present technical data to other engineers.

Drawing on the work of Lyotard, Latour, and field work, this presentation will discuss how postmodern ideas of networks and rhizomatic connections can inform the education of engineers. By shifting to a networked pedagogy and by directly engaging epistemic processes in professional writing classrooms, students can begin to understand the complex relationship among knowledge and networked communities. Networked pedagogy helps situate the engineer in direct conversation with peers, decision makers, funding organizations, and community members.

In addition to Postmodern theories of knowledge, research on how the brain processes information can help students analyze and respond to various rhetorical situations. For example, Kahneman's work on cognitive ease provides strategies for communicating with audiences who are resistant to change and new ideas. Overcoming resistance to change is a significant hurdle in solving the grand challenges; technical data and its implications must be shaped to so as to engage audiences on both a cognitive and emotional level. As advertising and marketing firms know, research on cognition is quite useful in doing so.

Ultimately, this presentation will suggest pedagogical and workplace training standards which can help engineers communicate with various audiences as they work to solve the grand challenges. Clear strategies and timelines for incorporating a pedagogy of networks into writing courses for engineers will be discussed.


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